Preventing Lower Back Pain During Pregnancy

From the indescribable moments of hearing your baby’s heartbeat and seeing the first ultrasound to the moment you finally get to cuddle with your newborn, pregnancy is an exciting time. After all, you’re creating a new member of the family—a source of infinite and unconditional love.

Of course, pregnancy isn’t all baby showers and sifting through cute newborn outfits. Your body is going through significant changes while preparing for birth. For many women, lower back pain during pregnancy is all too common. This pain can affect your daily functioning and even make delivery more difficult. Lower back pain during pregnancy may even continue after the baby is born.

Some pain medications pose significant risks to an unborn child. Instead of reaching for a bottle of pills, you should be aware of more holistic alternatives for treating your pain.

Understanding Back Pain in Pregnancy

Estimates vary, but up to 80 percent of women experience some kind of lower back pain during pregnancy. This type of pain becomes common starting around the fifth month of pregnancy. Some women, however, may start experiencing pain as soon as two months after they conceive. This is especially common for women who have a previous history of back pain.

The two most common types of lower back pain during pregnancy:

  • Posterior Pelvic Pain: The most common form of pregnancy-associated back pain occurs in the back of the pelvis. Women feel this deep pain around and just below the waistline. Some women experience this pain on one or both sides of the tailbone. It can also extend down the buttocks to the thighs. Activities that worsen this pain include climbing stairs, walking, rolling in bed, or rising from a seated position.
  • Lumbar Spine Pain: This type of back pain occurs above the waist in the center of the back. It is similar to the lower back pain experienced by those who are not pregnant. Lumbar spine pain can worsen while spending a long time standing, sitting, or during repetitive activities like lifting.

What causes lower back pain during pregnancy?

You may think that the weight gain associated with pregnancy is the main cause. In some cases, this is true. After all, your body weight can increase by almost 25 percent. This adds extra pressure to your back and legs. In addition, uneven weight develops in the front and back of your body, changing your center of gravity.

Weight gain, however, is only one of a few causes that may be the source of your discomfort. Your body’s response to pregnancy also plays a major role. For example, during pregnancy, your uterus expands. This muscular organ serves as the home and source of nourishment for your baby before birth. Before pregnancy, your uterus is about the size of an upside-down pear. By the time your little one is ready to be born, it expands to the size of a watermelon.

This relatively quick expansion of the uterus stretches your midsection. It pushes organs out of their normal place and strains nearby muscles and ligaments. This sometimes causes weak abdominal muscles and may even put pressure on a nerve. Some women may develop sciatica—compression of the sciatic nerve—resulting in shooting pains in the back that often travel down the leg.

Hormones are also a common factor for lower back pain. Your body surges with relaxin and estrogen during pregnancy. These hormones prepare the body for childbirth. These hormonal changes loosen the joints in the pelvis and relax nearby ligaments leading to sacroiliac joint dysfunction. These lax ligaments, along with the added weight, decrease joint support. This can make you feel less stable and cause pain when walking, rolling over in bed, or bending.

All these factors can cause muscles to fatigue more quickly. This affects your posture. Poor posture during pregnancy only worsens back pain symptoms by putting even more strain on already taxed muscles and joints.

Preventing Lower Back Pain During Pregnancy

Luckily, there are some relatively simple things that you can do to keep back pain from making your pregnancy miserable.

Preventing Back Pain Before Pregnancy

Just like taking prenatal vitamins, there are some things that you could do before becoming pregnant to help your body adjust to the change. You have a higher risk of developing back pain issues during pregnancy if you already have weak abdominal muscles, live an inactive lifestyle, or aren’t very flexible.

If you’re planning to get pregnant, consider getting your body ready for it. A regular exercise routine, especially one that focuses some time on your core (stomach and lower back) muscles will dramatically make your pregnancy more manageable.

Exercise routines like pilates and yoga are great for strengthening the body and increasing flexibility. In addition, these types of activities make you more mindful of your body’s positioning which in turn improves your posture.

Preventing Pain During Pregnancy

If you’re reading this article, chances are you are already pregnant and probably experiencing some degree of discomfort. That’s okay, it’s not too late. There are still things you could do to help your body cope with the changes of pregnancy.

Conservative Treatments

If you’re experiencing periods of mild or moderate back pain, there are some things you can do to manage these symptoms. Learning relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation can be a great way to calm the mind and body. Not only will this help you relieve stress, it reduces some of the tension felt in your body.

Using heat or cold can also temporarily relieve some back pain symptoms. Placing a heating pad on the back can soothe stiff joints and relax the muscles. Even better, enjoy some time relaxing in a warm (not hot) bath. In addition, using an ice pack can help reduce any swelling and inflammation.

Some pregnant women find a maternity support belt alleviates back pain symptoms. This supportive undergarment holds the belly up to decrease strain on the lower back and pelvis.

Prenatal massage can also provide pain relief and assist with relaxation. Make sure you find a massage therapist specifically trained in techniques for pregnant women. Those trained in prenatal massage have a better understanding of the effects pregnancy has on the body and how to relieve pain.

Staying Active

Exercise allows the body to adapt better to the changes during pregnancy. There are several safe exercise options for expectant mothers. If you’re planning to start a new exercise routine, however, make sure you consult with your doctor or obstetrician. This will ensure that you and your little one stays safe. Here are some great ideas for exercising while pregnant:

  • Go for a walk. This easy, low impact activity keeps your heart strong and muscles toned. The fresh air and change of scenery may also help to reduce stress.
  • Swimming or water therapy. Exercising in water takes some of the strain off your sore joints and ligaments. Water exercises can also strengthen abdominal and lower back muscles. See if your community pool or gym has a water therapy class for pregnant women.
  • Prenatal yoga. The movements and postures during a prenatal yoga routine enhance strength and flexibility. In addition, it’s an active way to meditate and increase an overall sense of well-being. Prenatal yoga can even help you sleep better.
  • Weight training. Using weights to strengthen your back and legs can reduce the stress placed on the muscles and joints. Be sure to consult with a professional who is familiar with pregnancy before starting any weight training routine.

Getting Additional Help

If your back pain persists for more than two weeks or becomes severe, you should contact your healthcare provider. Your doctor can suggest other professionals who are trained in treating back pain. These professionals can also help to rule out any complications with the pregnancy.

Physical therapists offer a wealth of information for pregnant women struggling with back pain. They can help you by manipulating nerve pressure points, joints, and muscles to relieve pain. In addition, a physical therapist guides you in the best ways to sit, stand, lay, and exercise. Just a session or two with a physical therapist teaches you specific body mechanics to help with housework, your job, and staying mobile during pregnancy.

Like physical therapy, a chiropractic session can also be beneficial for treating pain. Chiropractors can detect muscle imbalances and find ways to solve them. In addition, they may prescribe specific exercises to assist with nerve compression and joint issues.

Is Your Lower Back Pain More Than A Nuisance?

If you want to focus more on the joys of pregnancy than the pain, The Advanced Spine Center is ready to help. Our multidisciplinary team of spine experts specializes in conditions that cause back pain. Our specialists will help you find the most appropriate treatments for you, so that you can get back to enjoying your life and pregnancy.

At The Advanced Spine Center, we will make sure you have access to the information and treatments necessary to ensure the health of you and your baby. You have so many other things to worry about at this time in your life. Let us help with your back pain! Schedule an appointment today.